Water Supply Forecast for 2014

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By Sue Duncan, GGWC Board Member


Spring Snowpack

Current snowpack is the second or third highest in the 34 years of data collected, according to Brian Domonkos, Water Supply Specialist for the Montana Snow Survey Program of the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service. Domonkos spoke at the annual Spring Water Meeting sponsored by the District Court on April 9.

As of April 1, average snowpack on the Gallatin River at Gateway is 124% of normal; Gallatin River at Logan, 134% of normal; and Hyalite, 135% of normal.

Snowpack in the mountains is an important source of water for most of the West, especially in the summer months. Rainfall averages less than 20 inches a year, so irrigation is necessary for farmers and ranchers.

Streamflow is projected to be above average this year, but severe flooding is not expected, barring unusual weather events. Water supply for irrigation should be normal to better-than-normal.

Keeping the West Gallatin Flowing: Water Commissioner’s Report

George Alberda, West Gallatin Water Commissioner, gave a report on a tour held last August for local officials, judges, and legislators about low water concerns. Considering the flow of water in the river on the day of the tour, irrigators could have legally dried up the river at Gallatin Gateway, Four Corners, or Cameron Bridge if they had taken all of the water they were entitled to.

But the river was wet. Irrigators working with the Water Commissioner use what they need and send the rest downstream to other water users, keeping the stream flowing.

Groundwater Research and Modeling

Thomas Michalek, Research Hydrologist for Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology, gave an update on his research of groundwater in the Four Corners, Belgrade, and Manhattan area. The goal of the study is to determine changes in groundwater levels over the last 60 years, the effects of land use changes, and irrigation practices. Michalek is developing models to predict the effects of future development on groundwater.

Legislative Update

Krista Evans, Government Affairs Lobbyist for Association of Gallatin Agricultural Irrigators (AGAI), outlined issues to watch in upcoming legal and regulatory actions. These include: (1) rule making by the EPA extending the application of Clean Water Act provisions, (2) federal rules regarding spraying of pesticides or herbicides, (3) the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes Compact with the State of Montana and (4) a local lawsuit over use of exempt wells for subdivision development.

Evans also profiled some of the issues being discussed in the development of the State Water Plan, such as the adjudication process, water commissioners, prioritizing beneficial uses, and requiring a change-of-use permit to change from flood to sprinkler irrigation.